Can ‘random noise’ improve human cognition and learning potential?

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A new study has explored how transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) can improve perception and boost neuroplasticity. Paulien Tabak/EyeEm/Getty Images
  • Most people crave a quiet place to work or study, but recent research shows that “random noise” can actually improve our performance or learning potential.
  • By using electrodes to stimulate specific parts of the brain, previous research has shown that new connections and pathways can be done.
  • Now, researchers at Edith Cowan University have studied the effects of one type of brain stimulation in various settings and noted that this technique may have several applications.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to adapt or change over time by creating new connections and pathways.

New research from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia highlights how transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) can enhance human perception, which can boost neuroplasticity and learning. The study covers existing research which explores how tRNS can improve cognition.

Despite its name, TRNS does not imply “random noise” in the auditory sense.

Instead, tRNS is a noninvasive form of brain stimulation that sends a weak alternating current oscillating at random frequencies to the scalp using a pair of electrodes.

Talk to Medical News TodayLead author Onno van der Groen, PhD, a researcher in the Edith Cowan School of Medical and Health Sciences, highlighted the study’s key findings:

“tRNS can influence human performance, for example, [on] attention, perception, perceptual decision-making, and learning in health and disease. Several studies have shown that people are able to learn faster and this effect could last over time.

“Cognitive tasks are not performed by individual brain regions working in isolation, but by a network of many discrete regions that are ‘connected’, which we call networks.”

– Onno van der Groen, PhD, lead study author

Ben Rein, PhD, a neuroscientist and postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research, pointed out DTM that “this article is a review of the existing literature on tRNS [and is] a promising and promising method for brain stimulation.

Dr. Rein explained that in tRNS, electrodes are placed on the scalp to stimulate local brain tissue and increase its activity.

“Unlike other forms of electrical stimulation which stimulate at a constant, pre-set intensity, the current in the tRNS fluctuates randomly within a range,” he said. “There is reason to believe that this type of stimulation – which constantly changes in intensity – may be preferable.”

“Although tRNS can increase local brain activity, it is unclear exactly how. There is evidence to suggest that it can activate sodium channels in neurons. When active, sodium channels circulate ions positively charged in the cell, increasing the cell’s electrical charge and increasing the likelihood that the cell will “fire” an action potential.To date, there is no clear evidence that tRNS drives neuroplasticity Rather, it appears to temporarily increase brain activity, allowing better performance in certain tasks, especially those regulated by that brain area.Theoretically, the increased activity may drive plasticity in targeted neurons, but current evidence does not do not seem to indicate this robustly.

– Bein Rein, PhD, neuroscientist and postdoctoral fellow at Stanford

Experts like Dr. van de Goen agree that more research into using tRNS to improve cognition is still needed.

He said DTM that the results of Edith Cowan’s research could produce a new technique for enhancing human performance, but there are some hurdles to overcome before the technique becomes widely available.

“tRNS is currently still being investigated in laboratories around the world. Before people in the ‘real world’ can access it, we need to better understand the working mechanisms behind it,” he said.

“Research is already underway in healthy subjects to improve performance. This can for example be interesting for performance in stressful professions, such as air traffic controllers or even for defense personnel where the stakes of an error can be fatal.

Additionally, Dr. van de Goen highlighted the ethical implications of using tRNS techniques:

“There should be an ethical debate, because what will be the consequence on society if we all start using this? We won’t be able to create “super humans” (there seems to be a limit to how much we can improve performance), but we could give people a potentially more competitive advantage. »

“Other ethical questions will arise such as ‘what if parents, for example, started using it to improve the performance of their healthy children?’ [and] ‘will there be equal access in society to this technique?’ (probably not). Then there is also the question [of] what it does to the brain in the long term, that is, if you applied this every day, especially in children who don’t yet have a mature brain.

– Otto van de Goen, PhD, lead study author

Dr. van de Goen noted that “several neurological conditions show communication deficits between different areas of the brain” (ie attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia).

He added that “theoretically, tRNS has the potential to improve communication between areas of the brain and in this way potentially alleviate some of the behavioral consequences of neurological conditions,” as previous research has indicated.

Dr Rein agreed, but stressed that more research was needed.

“Developing tools to effectively and precisely stimulate certain areas of the brain is a major mission of neuroscience. Any method that accomplishes this can be a very powerful and extremely valuable tool for neurology and neuropsychiatry,” Dr. Rein said.

“To date, evidence suggests that tRNS can increase performance in certain learning, emotion perception, and visual sensing tasks, while improving sustained attention. However, tRNS could also theoretically be used to treat any condition characterized by regional changes in brain activity (such as stroke or depression).

– Bein Rein, PhD, neuroscientist and postdoctoral fellow at Stanford

“Admittedly, tRNS does not appear to be ‘revolutionary’ in this way, but it does appear to have some advantages over existing methods of transcranial electrical stimulation,” Dr. Rein added.

“The evidence keeps piling up, but any step in the right direction is always exciting.”

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